The Joy of Coloring – An Introduction


The Joy of Coloring – An Introduction

For as long as I can remember I’ve found pleasure in paying close attention to color.

It only intensified when I moved in 2011 to the North Woods of Wisconsin to get an MFA in poetry. When I visited, the locals told me there were only two catches: “winter, and you’ll never want to leave.” Winter was either less than or more than a catch: it was a snag, a hole, a retrieval, a puddle, a wavelength, a monochrome, a xerox, only duller. Winter plagued me with a question: Where does the color go? As I have written elsewhere, my favorite color became red; when winter faded away the blues the greens and yellows, red remained. Red, the only bird that doesn’t fly south. Red the only cars not faded out. Red my favorite color after I started testosterone, though I’m only suggesting correlation.

The never wanting to leave thing was another snag, an elastic, a rubber band, pink, and gummy. If winter the first catch was grey, the second catch was pink. And green. A flower. A shoe sole. A watermelon.

It’s July 2015 and I am going through my wall of books (loosely organized by color) pulling down discards to sell from a table at the end of my cracked driveway. It’s a yard sale, sort of. I’m trying to make cash to buy breakfast. I am employed by the University to teach cartooning to middle schoolers for three weeks for $800, and to teach college-level reading, writing, and research to seven incoming athletes at 60% of full time which amounts to under $500 on the first paycheck. The table from which I’m selling my books is bright yellow on the side of orange, with some dusty grey underneath from where I ran out of spray paint.

I’m getting ready to move back to Washington, DC, a return that feels squarely in the future. DC, a city of red and blue. Hot humid nights when I can’t sleep, I visit the websites of all the free museums in the city. Smithsonian Libraries: “Color in a New Light,” coming soon: “Name a topic that links science, history, art, and culture. How about color? Let’s follow the theme of color through the vast collections of the Smithsonian Libraries, and make a few unexpected connections and discoveries.”

This is what a library can be and do, why libraries won’t die, aren’t dead, aren’t only places to store books, although by the way, book storage is very important. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum, and it’s free, and it’s in a city where the income equality gap is one of the widest in the nation. That’s our capital.

In Fall 2014 I got lucky with a section of freshman composition to teach as I worked through another degree, this time an MA in Library and Information Studies. Between that coursework and a cartooning workshop I took with Lynda Barry, visual literacy was becoming more and more central to my teaching, research, and creative work. I taught that section on all about writing about color. We read Bluets by Maggie Nelson and “Some Thoughts on Mercy” by Ross Gay and “David Smith: The Color of Steel,” an essay on sculpture by Frank O’Hara. It was an experiment, one I hope to repeat someday.

I think it is risky to talk about coloring in the way that it is risky to talk about joy. Of course, I want to talk about both. Welcome to The Joy of Coloring. I am excited to introduce you to these LGBT artists and writers, among them a librarian, a bike mechanic, a tattoo artist, a florist, a drag performer, and a retired punk drummer, who through words and pictures describe and depict their relationship to color: being with it, of it, from it. They live in Los Angeles, Oakland, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Brooklyn, and Washington, DC.

Explore The Joy of Coloring:

Wo Chan

Whit McClure

Tyler Driscoll

Temim Fruchter

Maggie Gosselar

Jady Dyer

Jackie Lang

I don’t know if there is a particularly queer or trans relationship to color, but if there is, we might begin to find it here. Many of the writer/artists have also drawn blank coloring book pages available for your printing and coloring pleasure. Here are the questions I asked each writer/artist:

  1. What do you remember from childhood about coloring?
  2. What role does coloring (however you want to define it! choosing color, applying color, whether for art, make-up, food) play in your life today? How would you describe your joy of coloring?
  3. Does your joy of coloring connect with aspects of your identity? How/why?4. If someone wanted to pursue the joy of coloring, what is an exercise or activity or prompt that you would suggest from your own experiences?
  4. You get to name five Crayola crayons that are based on the palette and mood of the day you are having today. What do you name them?
  5. Coloring might seem to some like child’s play. Is there more to it than that? What in your mind is the benefit of coloring in the world?

These would also make great questions for you to respond to, for yourself or to share.

There’s a photograph that my Nana sent to her husband at the time, when he was in the Navy, before she divorced him. The photograph is black and white, but she’s written in cursive on the back, “Like my red shoes, honey?” I often think about how her words wrote the color back into the photograph. Some of my recent art has taken on this project, of imagining the color back into black and white photographs.


Please have a look around. Have fun, explore, and participate. Let’s risk queer joy together through coloring!

-Oliver Baez Bendorf – July 15, 2015 Madison, Wisconsin (updated July 4, 2016, Washington, D.C.)

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